Book review: Good Garden Bugs.

A quick book review today!


Good Garden Bugs:  Everything You Need to Know About Beneficial Predatory Insects – Mary M. Gardiner, Ph.D.  (2015, Quarry Books, Massachusetts)

Every gardener needs to be able to identify and understand the role of the most common insects in the garden – a difficult task, to be sure, but it can make a huge impact on the way integrated pest management is practiced.  There are a myriad of excellent insect ID books out there – both general and regional in scope – but to my knowledge, Dr. Gardiner’s is the first to specifically cover only beneficial predatory insects.  If you are trying to keep your garden as chemical-free as possible, a working knowledge of the insects described in Good Garden Bugs is essential, as they are your allies against any insect pests that might attack your plants.  We’re all familiar with the role ladybird beetles play as voracious aphid feeders – but have you thought about how useful insects such as assassin bugs, lacewings, wasps, antlions, and the parasitoid flies are?  What about arachnids such as spiders, predatory mites, and scorpions?  How about the water beetles that can help protect your pond plants?

Good Garden Bugs is easily accessible to the home gardener:  the profiles of each insect offer sufficiently appropriate (not overwhelming) details about identifying features, distribution, and behaviour/habits.  The full colour photography is outstanding and is a huge asset to anyone looking to make a positive ID of the six- or eight-legged critter found in the bean plants.

I was particularly interested in the short discussion of the feeding habits of the insects, as the way that they eat (piercing, sucking, etc.) is important to consider when examining their effectiveness as predators.  Excellent macro photos illustrate the various mouthparts.  There are also good tips on designing an “enemy-friendly” landscape, including a useful list of attractive plants (focussing on natives and those with extrafloral nectaries).

The readability and the stellar photography in Good Garden Bugs make this a must-have resource in any gardener’s library.  Next time you go out in the garden and you see an insect you can’t identify, consult Good Garden Bugs.  You might just be getting a helping hand in the garden!

(My copy of Good Garden Bugs arrived compliments from the publisher, Quarry Books.  This review is 100 percent my honest opinion.  Maybe even 110 percent).    🙂

Red Lily Beetle.

Although I don’t make a habit of revisiting old posts, this one bears repeating.  The red (or scarlet) lily beetle has taken over Alberta, it seems – and I know infestations have been occurring all over the world (in some places, for quite a number of years).  This is my post from last year about the dastardly red beast:

Red Lily Beetle (Flowery Prose)

Asiatic lily

This gorgeous Asiatic lily isn’t from my garden, although I wish it was – I took this photograph at the Calgary Zoo a couple of summers ago. 

Have you been faced with an infestation of red lily beetles in your garden?  (I sure hope not!).  If you have, what seems to work best to keep them under control?

Post updated: May 2018.

Of full rain barrels and unwanted pests.

Weather update in Calgary:  it’s still raining.  It would be okay to feel this coastal, I guess, except for the fact that we’re lacking a nearby ocean.  So, really, it’s not okay at all.  But we’re a chipper lot here – I can’t tell you how many times this week that I heard people announce, quite cheerfully, “At least my rain barrels are full!”   I went out this morning in the persistent drizzle and planted an ‘Aunt Molly’ ground cherry seedling that I had started indoors a couple of months ago – of course, I am completely aware that we’ll have frost right around the time the fruits are ripening on the plant (that is, assuming it even survives to bear fruit), but I simply have to make an attempt.  It’s “rain barrel-full” optimism!

On a slightly less positive note, the rain will bring with it some additional problems; once the weather clears and the summer heat begins (see, there’s that optimism again!), we’re going to notice all kinds of “pest issues” in our gardens and our homes.   A quick hunt on the ‘net brings with it some interesting pest control strategies…let me know if you’ve tried any of these, or if they’re simply myths:

To repel ants– shave off slices of fresh cucumber and place them around the affected locations.  The ants hate cucumber and will usually beat a hasty exit.  I’ve actually done this and I found that some of the ants didn’t retreat; instead, they climbed onto the cucumbers and sort of floundered around until they died.   I then picked up the cuke chunks and threw them out.  It didn’t take long before my ant infestation came to an end.  This one really works.


To get rid of mosquitoes in your outdoor living room/kitchen:  throw a handful of sage or rosemary sprigs on your barbeque coals while you’re grilling.  The smoke and scent will keep the moskies away and you’ll have extra flavour for your meats and veggies.   I’ve never tried this, but it’s a great tip for us Canadians, ‘cos we have mosquitoes here as big as houses.

For slugs:  run a line of ground ginger along the perimeter of plants you want to protect.  Slugs hate the stuff, it irritates them.  Used coffee grounds work the same way, supposedly.  I’ve yet to find a slug in my garden (please don’t let this be the year), so I’ve never attempted either remedy.

If you have black flies, try crushing some fresh mint and placing it in cheesecloth bags around the house, especially near windowsills and doors.  If it doesn’t work, you can always use the mint to make mojitos!!!  (Rain barrel-full, I’m telling you!).  🙂

To make moths stay out of your closets and dressers, put cinnamon sticks or cloves in a cheesecloth satchet and place them inside the furniture.  It will smell great and is definitely not as toxic as moth balls.  Has anyone tried this?

If you’ve got a problem with sowbugs and you can’t seem to get them out of all of the nooks and crannies of your house foundation, go and get yourself some big cobs of fresh, juicy corn.  Grill up the corn on the barbeque, slather some herb butter on it, and enjoy it with a nice beef/bison/elk steak/roasted eggplant.  Then take the gnawed-on cobs and set them on the ground along the perimeter of the house.   The sowbugs will be attracted to the corn and you can just collect the cobs and throw them in a bucket of soapy water to kill the bugs.   Again, I’m not plagued with sowbugs – does this seem like a good strategy to you?

In the war against aphids, make a foliar spray out of water and chopped potato or tomato leaves (plants of the Solanaceae family have poisonous leaves) or the leaves of rhubarb or elderberries (which contain high concentrations of toxic oxalic acid).  This seems like it should work, but I wonder how many applications you have to make?

If earwigs are a bother, try placing shallow bowls filled with soy sauce and vegetable oil at the base of the affected plants.  The insects will fall in and drown.  If anyone knows if this solution works, please let me know.  I’m still confused as to whether or not earwigs are naturally clumsy and can’t hang onto the plants they’re munching on….  😉

If you are plagued with hares, as I am, you can try sprinkling flour on young seedlings or garlic powder on mature plants – the long-ears won’t touch them.  This remains to be seen – I will definitely test this and keep you updated.

Starting your own seeds?  Apparently you can brew up some chamomile tea and use it to irrigate your young seedlings (instead of mere H2O) – the chamomile will help prevent fusarium wilt (damping off).   This is one I simply must try!  As well, you can make a foliar spray out of chamomile, which will combat powdery mildew.

Speaking of powdery mildew, supposedly if you mix equal parts of water and milk and spray it on the affected plants, the mildew will eventually go away.  I guess you have to do this repeatedly, however, and wait a whole week in between sprays, so the whole process is probably lengthier than most people would care for.  What do you think?

Here are some websites to try for more down-home pest control remedies (and related topics):  General insect control, including great tips about making natural mosquito repellant from Thai lemongrass  Illustrations of beneficial insects and some Integrated Pest Management tips  Pesticides: Natural Isn’t Always Best – interesting perspective, a must-read
(As most of these articles point out, you have to apply any pest control solution with caution.  And, of course, remember that some of these remedies aren’t tested and true – and certainly not scientific!).
There are a million other home remedies like these for home owners and gardeners – do you have any particular ones that you use in your own garden? 

Pest to watch (out for): Red lily beetle.

Yesterday, one of my library co-workers came to me and in appropriately hushed, but slightly panicked tones, told me about some beetle-esque critters that appeared to be munching on her tiger lilies, which are just emerging from their winter slumber.  “They look like ladybugs,” she said, “until you get up close.  They don’t have any spots on them.”   Uh oh, I thought.

(Click here for photo).

This is the dreaded red (scarlet) lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii – isn’t that the best scientific name ever???  Well, next to Bison bison, that is).  A little longer and a little boxier than the cute, rounded lady beetle, red lily beetles are not spotted like the beneficial bugs.  We never used to have them in Alberta, but apparently they hitched a ride on some lily bulbs brought in from other regions and now we’re beset by the things.  Grrrrrr.  Unfortunately, according to Sara Williams and Hugh Skinner’s excellent resource, Gardening, Naturally:  A Chemical-Free Handbook for the Prairies (essential reading for Prairie gardeners), these nasty eating machines have no natural predators in North America, so they’re pretty much free to run rampant over our gardens, taking out our lilies and Fritillaria at will, as well as threatening wild lily species.   (They will also attack Solomon’s seal and lily of the valley, but don’t fret about your daylilies…Hemerocallis are safe from the marauding red horde.  Not from jackrabbits, mind you, but that’s a story for another day…).  Apparently certain parasitic wasps are used as controls in Europe and we are starting to see some of them here in Canada, which offers hope.

So, what can we do to prevent an infestation?  First off, if you get any lily bulbs, inspect both the bulbs and the soil they are potted up in for signs of red lily beetle – either the bright red adults, larvae or eggs.  The larvae is yellow-orange in colour and is usually covered in goopy black frass (bug poop.  Hope you’re not eating anything right now), while the orange eggs are small and round.   Hand-pick adult beetles and larvae and destroy them by dumping them in a bucket of soapy water.  (Make sure you have a lid for the bucket to trap escapees!). Williams and Skinner recommend that you don’t buy lilies that are potted in soil to begin with, but they say that if you take the bulbs out and soak them in bleach (the exact amounts and procedure are in the book), you can probably get rid of the beetles.

Throughout the spring and summer, make sure you stay on top of things!  Sadly, it may become a full-time job if you have a lot of lilies!  The City of Calgary also suggests using diatomaceous earth as a means of successfully desiccating the critters.  Bear in mind that red lily beetles are excellent fliers – after they’re done eating your neighbour’s lilies, they may latch onto yours (even mature plantings that were safe when you put them in years ago).  Be vigilant…and good luck!!!!

Have you had any trouble with red lily beetles in your garden?  What did you do to combat them?

Post updated: May 2018.